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Pilot Hunt

Contemporary history. In the last months of the Second World War shot down US pilots were systematically abused and killed. Mostly by members of the SS.

From Adelheid Woelfl for the Austrian weekly political journal "Profil".
Translated by Martin Rosenkranz (www.airpower.at) and Georg Mader (JDW Austria).

B-24's over "The Reich"
Foto: www.b24.net

A B-24 is shoot down by AAA
Foto: www.b24.net

It was a clear, very stormy day with a good visibility. On March 4th 1945, eight minutes after eleven o'clock, public air warning was put on in Graz and 141 American airplanes were in the air space over the city. The bombardments lasted to 13.37 p.m. Approximately at this time an American type "Liberator" bomber was shot by anti-aircraft-artillery.
B-24's escorted by Mustang's over the Adriatic

B-24 over "Moosbierbaum" syntethic fuel plant in Lower Austria

B-24's hit by Flak

B-24's attacked by fighters

Highly decorated German Flak

Usual target's of American bombers was the armament-industry, like this Messerschmitt-factory at Wr. Neustadt

"We saw, the crew coming down from high heights in parachutes, long time whirled in the air by the icy north wind, fired against by AAA-guns before they came down finally shivering from cold weather and fear where them wind blew them." chronics G. reports. Three Americans landed beside a railroad overway, in the Graz local area of "Straßgang".

The police station supervisor at that time Gottfried Einspieler is one first, who reaches the Americans. He sees some civilians approaching the fliers, and cries: "Do not shoot!". Behind him, SS Sturmfuehrer Willi S. calls: "Man, punch a bullet into his head !". A farmer with the riflebutt strikes an American "the knee and the teeth to pieces", so the report of G. SS Untersturmfuehrer Markus L. steps out of the crowd line which formed around the jumped off crew. He shoots an American twice into the chest and once in the neck. Then he kills the second American. The SS Sturmfuehrer supportingly touches the SS Untersturmfuehrer on the shoulder.

The third crewmember is transported "with hands up under continual insults and abusing and accompanied by a crying and roar public" in the municipal office, eye-witness Bruno S. reports. He is cross-examined and then returned to the other two crewmembers. He kneels down, shows photographs of its family and is begging for his life. People are standing around smoking the plunder American cigarettes and blow the smoke into the face of the prisoner. SS Untersturmfuehrer Markus L. then shoots the third flier in the neck. The Nazi-newspaper "Truth" reported later: "In the evening of the same day a victory party took place with wine and robbed American cigarettes and robbed chocolate at the restaurant." 24 hours later the bodies of the three killed Americans still laying beside the federal highway. Its murderer, Markus L., was condemned to death in 1946.

Today a memorial stone remembers at the site in Straßgang. However many other lynch-murders are so far hardly publicly known. The historian August Tropper from Leibnitz, who documented 460 downings of American airplanes in Styria, Austria in demanding detailed work says: "The lynching murders are difficult to find out. The Nazis destroyed all the documents." At least some could be held in the meanwhile (see below). The German news magazine "Der Spiegel (The mirror)" recently reported on at least 200 cases of fliers as POWs, that were systematically killed in the third Reich - often on instruction by the Nazis. However this murderers were mostly not from within the local population, but members of the SS or the GESTAPO who murdered the US pilots against international war-laws - because of losses by Allied bombing. That early as 1940, Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess required that enemy fliers should be made "innocuous!". On May 21., 1944 an instruction by Hitler himself followed, according to which "hostile pilots are to shoot without danger of court martial". Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels wrote at that time: "Very soon the large pilot chase will start in Germany", and requested lynching them in a openly editorial in the "Völkischen Beobachter". With headlines like "new criminal methods of the air terror" or "airgangsters are murdering women and children" propaganda in the early summer 1944 was constantly radicalised. SS-Boss Himmler even threatend Germans "who help US-aircrews in falsely understood compassion", with the arrest in a concentration camp. Even to contact the crews or, in addition, supplying food to them was strict forbidden.

Shooting order

On March 4th 1945 two further pilots landed in the proximity of Graz. While one of them was shot by an SA-man in an excavation, the other one was taken into police jail. As the Graz historians Siegfried Beer and Stefan Karner report in their book "the war from the air", the commander of the local police gave the instruction to shoot the prisoner Second Lieutenant Mac Donald Moore. Two policemen helped the American however to escape and said that the body of the American has fallen into the river "Mur". The man survived. The SA man, who had murdered the other flier, was in Russian war prison up to the year 1953. After its return to Graz, the case was opened on him again.

The placed memorial with the label "On March 4th, 1945 three defenceless American airmen murdered here by Nazi-fascists" was several times damaged. An initiative required, to replace the monument by a Christian Catholic monument with the label "forgive our blames, as we also forgive your blames". 1983 the monument were violated again by right-wing extremists.

When it was restored in 1988, the suggestion emerged to the Grazer office for culture, to defuse the inscription to a "more peacefully" "...both to the memory of the shot American soldiers and the memory of the victims of the bomb attacks becomes fair". The words "cowardly" and "Nazi-fascist" should not be mentioned any longer. The city administration had fear of new violating and probably before the still dark opinion of the population. It actually there were several threatening callings, who "warned" of the restoration of the monument. Who asks for the lynching murders today in Straßgang, the frequent answer to that is: "No comment. That is too delicate politically..."

Lynched pilots

US pilots were shot or died on violations. Who helped them was threatened by death.
STALAG 17b at Krems, Gneixendorf STALAG 17b at Krems, Gneixendorf
Foto: www.b24.net

A downed B-24 somewhere in the Third Reich
Foto: www.b24.net

If they had luck, the population helped anyway, and the pilots came into the hospital or into a prisoner-of-war camp. For example Krems Gneixendorf / STALAG 17b (Air Corps NCO's) - so the Historian Barbara Stelzl-Marx of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute - was accommodating up to 4000 American aircrews.

Some cases:

February 22.,1944: Robert Bird and Dean Manning landed with their parachutes at Koglhof bei Birkfeld. Bird gives away chocolate at two girls, who pointed him the way to a nearby village. 1984 they meet German pilot Helmut Beckmann, who had shot down their US bomber.

February 25., 1944: The bomber "Who Nose" falls down within St. Veit am Vogau. Some pilots are charred beside the airplane wreck. Mr. S. remembers: "At the crash site there was a girl with an spotted US-accordion and played a Merry Nazi song between the lying corpses."

July. 26., 1944: The medical doctor Alois G. refuses medical assistance to the shoot- down pilot Frank Rogan at Molln. He meant: "This dog should peg out or croak." Rogan deceased.

November 24., 1944: A Kronberger farmer, who supplied US pilots, is accused of aiding and abetting the enemy.

February 13., 1945: Four pilots land at Schützen am Gebirge in the Burgenland. The Oberfeldmeister of the Reicharbeitsdienst (work service) gives order to his subordinates: "You proceed a 100 steps, and there the pilots are to be shot immediately." The dead ones fingerings, boots and wrist-watches are removed.

March 23., 1945: At Hieflau, Charles Mitchell is taken imprisoned and requested to hand over his pistol by a group of young Nazis. Afterwards they shot him.

March 1945: A 23-year old American pilot officer lands with heavy foot injuries at Siebenbrunn but "because of political motives" no help is rendered to the pilot. The man dies.

April 25., 1945: Mayor Josef Haas from St. Georgen am Walde gives orders to bury a dead US pilot at the local cemetery. The Kreisleitung (leading NS-office of the political district) therefore formally ordered his shooting. Haas is able to flee.

Read also: A Twist of Fate over Austria


© Kontakt - Autor & Webmaster
Letzte Aktualisierung: 27.12.2001